With the dawning of the New Year, many news outlets have been blasting corporate wellness programs for the shams that they are. And rightly so. Corporate “wellness” programs are a way for businesses to engage in the fraudulent behavior of claiming to help their employees and reduce healthcare costs while actually doing nothing at all. Worse, in some cases they add to a culture of “un-wellness” in many corporate environments.
For example, when I worked for a company that required us to participate in a wellness program to receive a percentage off our insurance; I was repeatedly subjected to corporate sanctioned behavior that negatively impacted my recovery from an eating disorder. For those of you that may not know this, eating disorders are never cured. They are lifelong illnesses that are managed, much like alcoholism and depression. Alcoholics often abstain from not only drinking alcohol, but even being put in situations where the temptation of alcohol could impair their recovery. Diet talk (even when it is disguised as a “lifestyle choice”) triggers eating disordered behavior and can cause someone with an ED to relapse. Our “wellness program” constantly pressured me to participate in “weight loss challenges” and “lifestyle coaching” in attempts to get me to lose weight. As a result, I constantly relapsed with my ED until I no longer worked for that company. This is just one, personal example of how “corporate wellness programs” are complete and total bullshit.
My story isn’t unusual. Sometimes, the programs aren’t necessarily harmful, but they are ridiculously ineffectual. For example, another woman I worked with had recently agreed to foster an 18 month old infant. Because of this, she was unusually sleep deprived. Guess what? The program insisted she sign up for their “ insomnia program”. The problem was that she didn’t have insomnia (which, BTW, should be diagnosed by a physician, not a computer generated questionnaire). The “problem” was a temporary life circumstance. But, if she didn’t participate in the program, she was charged more for insurance.
Another coworker began to struggle with her blood pressure. Her doctor said that based on her readings, this was due to stress. What was causing the stress? Surely not the unreasonable demands that corporate had recently placed on her regarding revenue building. Surely not the demands that she fudge the numbers to make the profit look bigger than it was. Surely not the fact that every time she turned around she was threatened with being fired over not meeting impossible expectations! How exactly was the “stress coaching” she received supposed to mitigate the damage caused by her employer?
The fact is, these “wellness programs” are a symptom of the smoke and mirrors syndrome that plagues our culture. Corporations like to put programs like this into place so that it looks like they are actually doing something to promote wellness, whether or not the programs are helpful. It also keeps them from having to do the real work and expense of providing a truly healthy work culture.
We support smoke and mirrors when we don’t call it out. Or when we “go along to get along”. And then later, we complain when things aren’t working. For many of us this is the result of fear and a desire to remain comfortable. It is easier to ignore and complain than to hold ourselves accountable for our experience.
One of the hardest things we are asked to do in this life is facing discomfort and transforming our experience. However, when we meet this challenge, our life and the lives of others are changed for the better in ways we can never imagine. As we do this, others see the positive results of our journey and join us in our endeavors. We are able to come together as voices of reason to negotiate better work situations for ourselves. By taking our power back, we create our own “culture of wellness” that effective, reasonable, and rational.
It is hard to step outside of a culture of insanity. We need each other to create a new culture of health, balance, and courage. By changing our inner world it is much easier to come together and change the outer. Take the leap and others will follow.